The Force and field put B.O. into orbit

Industrywide grosses up 22% over 2001 at $3.19 bil

Far from sucking the life out of its box office rivals this weekend, the highly anticipated bow of “Star Wars: Episode II — Attack of the Clones” seems to have stoked competitors’ fires.

An estimated $176 million in total grosses marked one of Hollywood’s best weekends ever, one frame before the start of this year’s beach-blanket B.O. season. Pending official data on the latest frame, the best Friday-through-Sunday sesh to date is the post-Thanksgiving weekend in November 2000 with a $176.9 million B.O. total.

But, by any measure, this weekend saw remarkably enthusiastic movie attendance, with B.O. climbing 71% from the same frame a year ago.

With that kind of momentum heading into the Memorial Day sesh and a summer chockablock with tentpolers, it’s no surprise that industrywide grosses are up 22% on last year at $3.19 billion, according to data from B.O. tracker Nielsen EDI.

That’s the biggest year-over-year B.O. gain in recent memory headed into summer. And much of the credit goes to 20th Century Fox’s “Attack of the Clones” and Sony’s “Spider-Man,” which together already account for over $400 million in biz.

“It’s mind-boggling how impressively those films have performed,” EDI exec veep Dan Marks said. “The studios must be pleased that they’ve hit their marks so well with those pictures.”

But the blockbusters holding down frame’s top two spots tell only part of weekend’s boffo B.O. story: Seven of sesh’s other eight top-10 finishers fell less than 30% from their frame-earlier grosses.